the airport in Geneva waiting for my home-bound fight I finally have a couple
of hours to do nothing but reflect on what happened through last week.
has been a magnificent week. About 120 people from a bit more than 35 countries
from around the world participated in the technical discussion in improving the
OOXML-spec (DIS 25000). It was a monstrous task and I think we all felt a bit
nervous on the first day – at least I can see Tim Bray was as nervous as I. The
task at hand – to reach consensus on the 1000 odd responses from ECMA – was an
impossible task given the 5 working days we had, so I was anxious to find out
what the convener Alex Brown had up his sleeve. We, the delegates at the BRM,
have naturally been talking a great deal in the corridors between sessions, in
the hotel lobbies and everywhere else we got together about how to solve this
“Gordian knot” and countless emails have been exchanged between us about this
very subject. We have also talked a lot about this afterwards and have tried to
do some evaluations on the process chosen by the BRM. It is always nice to do
this – hind-sight is 20/20-vision.
Let me also note that I was deeply
impressed about the technical level of the delegates. We had some really good
and in-depth discussions during the week. Countries that particularly impressed
me were Canada, UK, USA, Germany, Israel and The Czech Republic. I appologize to those I forgot.
I think the
process chosen was the best process given the circumstances. All alternatives
were in my opinion worse than the one chosen – and I think it is important to
emphasize that the process was chosen by
the BRM and not chosen for the BRM.
The way the BRM works is normally this: When a DIS fails it is evaluated if the
countries voting had a desire to approve the specification – but that they
didn’t feel the specification was good enough. If this is the case a BRM is
scheduled and the purpose of the BRM is to improve the specification so that
the countries can change their vote from “No” to “Yes” (or any other way). The
result of the BRM is a list of improvements or changes to the DIS. These
improvements have to be presented and approved (preferably by consensus) by the
BRM itself. So the rules governing the BRM essentially meant this: If a piece
of text is not presented to the BRM, it cannot get approved and hence
incorporated into the failed DIS. A side note is that at the BRM the
member-status of SC34 does not count, so O-members are not treated differently
than P-members (at least that was my understanding).
talking to the other delegates we more or less agreed that the number of
Responses not dealt with would be something in the area of 800-850 in total. So
we basically had two choices:
chose to do something. We didn’t all agree to what to do and as it has been
reported all over the blog-sphere, most parts of a whole day was spent
discussing what to do. I think most of the delegates disliked the
position we were put in – but regardless of this we were in this situation whether we liked it or not. We had to do something.
was to do a vote on each of the remaining responses from ECMA. It was not a
bulk-vote as reported on various sites – it was a vote on each and every single
I will not
comment on what individual countries (including my own) voted and their reasons
for it, but it seemed to be from discussing this, that the various reasons
given for a specific vote fell into these categories:
think the responses from ECMA are generally an improvement to the DIS and
therefore we approve all responses not dealt with during the BRM
a principle we cannot do anything but disapprove responses that have not been
think the BRM is about reaching consensus and this vote bypasses this process
and we therefore disapprove all
responses we haven’t dealt with
will vote “yes” or “no” to those responses we have a qualified opinion about
and we will abstain on the rest. This effectively means that the “fate” of these
responses is left to those countries that actually have an opinion on them
don’t want to participate in this vote at all
… and the
rest, as they say, is history.
minutes of after Friday 29th of February at 17:00 rumors started to
flow that “The BRM failed” or “ISO failed”. I honestly disagree to this. We
were facing an impossible task but we dealt with it according to the purpose of
the BRM: To change and improve the DIS. There is really nothing more to
say about it. Now the national bodies can sit down and look at the result of
the BRM and see if the DIS is now in a position to be approved. That process
has always been aside to the BRM itself and whatever was voted on and how the
votes were distributed is really not relevant in terms of approving the DIS.
The DIS is now what it is and that is what is to be decided 29 days from now.
And now for
a few quotes from inside the BRM:
“We need a
precise definition of inaccuracy”
<country omitted> would like to note that there are actually ‘normal’
people that don’t speak English natively”
<country omitted>, you had a comment?
Country: I have absolutely no idea“
(and now my
plane is delayed for at least two hours)